Yesterday, Samsung unveiled its two new flagship-class smartphones, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. The handsets both feature large dual-curved displays, a new PC-like desktop experience with mouse and keyboard support, iris and facial recognition, and all sorts of other high-end specs.
The new devices are also the first to support Samsung's new digital assistant and "intelligent interface", Bixby, which the company spent a good deal of time talking about during its Galaxy S8 launch event.
Samsung described Bixby as "a new way to interact with your phone", and "fundamentally different from other voice agents or assistants in the market". Bixby can be accessed via a dedicated button on the devices, and supports voice controls, interactions with various apps, contextual awareness, and visual search features, along with "customized cards based on user behavior and trends" - all of which might sound familiar to users of other digital assistants.
But while Samsung was keen to talk up the supposedly revolutionary nature of its new assistant, Bixby will be far more limited at launch than some may have realized.
Despite the upcoming global release of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, Bixby will only be supported in US English and Korean on day one. Samsung promises "more language support to follow", but there's no indication of when that support will arrive.
The Bixby Vision feature - allowing owners to use the handsets' cameras to detect what they're looking at, to search and shop online for those items - will only be available in 11 markets at launch, including the US, UK and Korea. Again, more markets are promised, but no timeframe for this expansion is even hinted at.
And the ability to use Bixby to interact with apps on your device through voice will be similarly limited at first, as Samsung explained:
At launch, Bixby’s Voice function will integrate with several Samsung native apps and features including Camera, Contacts, Gallery, Messages and Settings, with the plan to expand its capabilities to include more Samsung and third-party apps in the near future.
"As the Bixby ecosystem continues to grow," Samsung said it "believes it will evolve from an interface for your smartphone to an interface for your life." Perhaps Bixby will eventually reach that point in the future, but for now, it's clear that the company needs to greatly expand its range of capabilities and support before that happens.